My oldest is 14, nearly fifteen now, and he has grown capable and attentive to his younger siblings, and so Mark and I have been entrusting them to him for longer and longer periods over the past few months. I felt he had to get used to it gradually (maybe it was us who had to get used to it), so we started by taking the baby with us on walks to a coffeeshop for just an hour or two, leaving him to watch over the 11, 8, and 5yo; and then we took the 15mo baby with us while we went out to dinner; and then we started leaving the baby with him too.
So far, so good, and the outings where we leave the baby have still been fairly short. Mostly they consist of Mark and I walking the half-mile to the busy street where there are a few restaurants, and grabbing a beer together. (My new passion is a Belgian sour paired with a big basket of hot french fries.)
We pay him for these outings. I know that watching one's younger siblings is in many families considered an ordinary chore of the sort that teens are supposed to just do, as one clears the table or takes out the garbage. Some "babysitting" has been like that; I have been occasionally dashing out during the schoolday, and for that there has been no transaction. "I have to go sign up for swim lessons at the Y before the deadline, I just got the baby down for a nap, listen for him," I'll call to the 14yo, who is curled up in the game room with his iPad writing an English paper or something, and he'll nod and off I'll go, myself, in the van with two booster seats and one car seat and several more un-boosted seats, and all of them (except mine) empty and quiet. And I come back as fast as I can, not because I am worried about anyone but because I know that the 14yo has a stack of schoolwork as high as my arm to do and I want to free him up to do it.
That kind of thing -- the quick dash to the store, made possible by the extra Big Person who has suddenly materialized in my home -- feels like a clearing-the-table, take-out-the-garbage kind of task. But swinging my small bag over my shoulders and stepping out with Mark to (I can't stop saying it, it's still so amazing) go out to grab a beer on a weeknight is something extra, something that doesn't technically have to happen to keep the house running but is only made slightly easier if the kids are temporarily watched by someone else. It is the kind of thing that we get babysitters for, and babysitters are paid. I, personally, honestly feel that Mark and I would be abusing our office as We-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed if we ordered the teenager to babysit without pay merely so we could grab a beer.
(Unless there wasn't any beer in our fridge and we needed to go buy some. Then it would be "dashing out for an essential errand" and would fall into the chores category with clearing the table and taking out the garbage.)
The other reason we pay him is that he is old enough to be earning some money beyond the lemonade-stand kid stuff, and we haven't yet made up our minds to make him go out and get a real job (what's up with that kid? When I was fourteen years old I was itching to make some money I could call my own! Kids these days), and, well, this is an easy way for us to have him do it. And maybe learn some saving skills now that his own sweat is on the line.
Mostly it appears that he is using his nouveau-riche status to become an aficionado of expensive bottled root beer, but I am biting my tongue for now. It's his money.
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So I don't have a system for paying him or for figuring out how much to pay him or anything like that quite yet. The kid-who-is-old-enough-to-babysit kind of snuck up on us and we didn't have time to think about it What I have been doing, as a stopgap measure -- and I have told him, "This is a stopgap measure and we will figure out a more permanent payment thing soon" -- is pay him a flat five dollars on each occasion that we run out for a beer, regardless of whether it's for 45 minutes or two hours.
Yes, it's a pittance, but bear with me. Because the 14yo is inexperienced still, we have been keeping the occasions quite short, and we also have not been driving anywhere while he's in charge. We've remained strictly in our own neighborhood, within sprinting distance (well, Mark could sprint there, anyway). We're lucky that there are a couple of nice restaurants within the sprinting radius, but these outings still feel informal and short.
Think of it as a training wage.
Next week, however, I am sending him to take the famous Red Cross babysitter's training. And after that, seeing as how he will possess a certification of sorts, we're going to sit down with him and negotiate a real hourly rate. Yes, even though we are the parents, "negotiate" -- one of the things that the Red Cross training is supposed to include is "how to decide how much to charge," so I intend to make him apply that knowledge.
The hourly rate I am willing to pay my own teenager will be less than the rate I would be willing to pay an outsourced teenager. Working from home is a perk, after all. I expect the pay demanded by outsourced teenagers to reflect the additional time and expense of traveling to and from my home and the inconveniences of not being totally free, for example, to grab a snack from the fridge whenever they want, or to work on their own projects around their house if the baby goes down for a nap and the 5yo is comfortably ensconced with a video.
But the 14yo will, after that point, be doing real work for us, not just "let's take a walk and give him some practice watching over the younger ones" kind of work, and so he's going to be trading value for value.
A couple things still have to be decided (beside the hourly rate itself).
For one thing -- I still have to talk to Mark about this -- I suspect that our We-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed status will still come into play in that I think we will retain the authority to make him babysit for us sometimes (for pay) whether he wants to or not, taking into consideration whether he has lots of homework and the like. But we'll pay him.
For another thing, while the babysitting course includes basic first aid, there's another level. He could take the full first aid/CPR course, for example. I think I would like to offer (during wage negotiations) to pay for that additional certification and promise a raise should he complete it. I would like to encourage him to do this just as a matter of course. Taking CPR is not only a useful skill, it also would open the door to getting lifeguard certification, something I have often thought should be a graduation requirement for my homeschool.
+ + +
I feel flush with freedom, on the cusp of being able to go out for a date with Mark any time I want. Up till now we have been limited, not so much by the cost of a babysitter, but by a dearth of them. (Typically we have hired the babysitter to be in charge of everyone except our oldest, who has permission to do homework or read or whatever while we're gone, but is supposed to be available to answer questions or fetch things the babysitter can't find.)
There is, it turns out, a limited supply of teenagers who are sufficiently older than my oldest child AND not someone who is a Friend's Kid and therefore automatically bereft of perceived authority over my own children because they have played together in somebody's backyard or basement. And those teenagers have a limited supply of time.
I have gone so far as to contact the eligible teenagers well in advance and say "Do you want money? Whenever you want money, please tell me when YOU are free. Please. I want to give you my money. LET ME GIVE YOU MONEY."
After I had reserved the 14yo's spot in the Red Cross class, I still had a couple of babysitter dates on the calendar, including last night and (next week) the evening after the 14yo was slated to have completed the class. It seemed kind of silly, with him being so close to being able to take the place of the babysitter, to make him be babysat (after a fashion). So last night we took him, and the two next kids, with us, and left the two littles with the babysitter.
We went to the indoor climbing gym for a few hours, and all climbed together, something that most definitely cannot be done with a baby in tow. It was the first time we'd climbed together since our trip to France in the fall.
Mark and my daughter on the auto-belays.
Look -- I drew blood!
Then the five of us went two doors down to a pizza place, and we all fit together in one high-backed booth. The three big children, not having been enjoned to entertain littler ones, talked a mile a minute, about the climbing and the pizza and the root beer, and about the week's work, and what the baby did when, and the movies they hoped to see soon, and what they were reading in their schoolwork. We, not feeling we had to focus on each other with only a limited time to be in a restaurant, listened and laughed and drank pints of good draft beer.
I put my arm around Mark and kissed him on the cheek and said, "This is fun. I have the babysitter scheduled again for next week -- let's do it again." And so we will.
And so I don't think my days of outsourcing babysitter time are entirely over. And I am not at all sorry.